Diane Standaert ’06: Helping Communities Build Resilience to Disasters

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Diane Standaert

Diane Standaert ’06 was the student director of UNC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

In the aftermath, UNC students like Standaert worked with residents on title issues to help them claim government disaster relief funds. That experience, of working with mostly poor residents in the aftermath a hurricane, exposed Standaert to the challenges those communities face when a disaster hits.

Eight years later, it’s turned into a book to help attorneys, disaster relief workers and others strengthen communities struck by disasters.

“Building Community Resilience Post-Disaster: A Guide for Affordable Housing and Community Economic Development Practitioners” was published by the American Bar Association in 2013.

Standaert, senior legislative counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, along with Dorcas Gilmore, an NAACP staff attorney, have edited the 352-page book with chapters from a range of experts. The book provides legal tools, resources and best practices from attorneys and others on affordable housing and community development issues that arise when recovering from disasters.

In the last several years the frequency and intensity of disasters, from Sept. 11 to Hurricane Sandy, have increased. As a result, more disaster relief funds than ever are flowing into community development and affordable housing programs.

“That creates both opportunities and challenges in rebuilding these communities,” Standaert says. “We’ve seen the field of affordable housing (and) economic development really at the forefront of what that rebuilding looks like.”

For poor communities, especially, it’s important that relief officials, government leaders and others “have those discussions and make those decisions in a way that’s equitable and fair and creates stronger communities,” Standaert says.

The book, sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Forum Committee on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, aims to offer lawyers and other professionals best practices and guidance, “so we’re not reinventing the wheel every time,” she says.

“The book is an invaluable resource, especially when used in advance of a disaster,” says Mark Shelburne ’98, counsel and policy coordinator with the N.C. Housing Finance Agency and a member of the governing committee of the ABA’s Forum Committee on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law. “Diane (Standaert) and her co-editor did an excellent job of pulling together top experts who have extensive value to add.”

Topics the book addresses include:

  • How do relief agencies and government agencies structure financing programs?
  • What’s the role of local governments vs. state and federal agencies?
  • How do decision makers ensure transparency in the way resources are used?
  • How do Native American tribes get access to these resources?

The authors were completing first drafts of their chapters when Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast in late 2012, providing a real-time backdrop to their work. As a result, the book includes policy changes that took place as a result of that disaster.

Though many individuals contributed to the book, Standaert’s role as co-editor began at UNC.

“All of this,” she says, “I think goes back to the experiences that UNC provided and encouraged.”

-February 6, 2014

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